Working with buyers and sellers? As a real estate agent, you know that means having to deal with personalities and ages that run the gamut from young and energetic to senior and slow-paced. But working with the elderly is a lot different than working with any other client type. When dealing with older clients, you're usually more hands-on, especially if they don't have a family member advocating for them. Since real estate is now so heavily reliant on technology, you'll need to play a part in informing your elderly clients of the risks associated with internet-based communications.
Frank Abagnale, author and film subject of "Catch Me If You Can," published statistics by the Government Accountability Office in the Fraud Bulletin Vol. 15, which states that "financial fraud targeting older Americans is a growing scourge that costs seniors an estimated $2.9 billion annually." The bulletin also reports that the number of calls to the Senate Aging Committee's Fraud hotline doubled in 2016.
It doesn't stop there. A survey performed by Home Instead last year found that 67 percent of U.S. seniors have fallen victim to at least one common internet-related scam. On top of that, 38 percent reported that someone tried to scam them online, and 28 percent of those surveyed downloaded a computer virus accidentally. These numbers may be higher as many elderly individuals are too embarrassed to admit they were victims of a cyber crime.
There are various programs out there that work to educate and protect the elderly from cyber fraud and internet scams. Home Instead Senior Care has a Protect Seniors Online program that provides educational resources on how the elderly can protect themselves against scams. The AARP Foundation has a program called ElderWatch in Colorado that reaches out and educates the elderly, as well as a broader program: Fraud Watch Network.
"Some of my most rewarding work has been partnering with AARP's Fraud Watch Network," said Abagnale in his latest bulletin. "For the last three years, I have served as their ambassador. It is distressing to see those who should be among the most respected and cared for in our society—the elderly—become some of the most susceptible victims of fraud."
These are the most common real estate-related cyber schemes that target the elderly:
Stolen Down Payments
Elderly clients may not be the most tech-savvy. They're probably not on social media, but know their way around an email account. Verifying an email, on the other hand, is where it gets tricky. Scammers are disguising themselves as the client's title company, telling them to wire the funds in order to close the deal. These scammers take the down payment funds and its nearly impossible to track them down.
Let your elderly clients know to always confirm the receipt of internet-based information through a phone conversation or in face-to-face meetings. You can also have them double check that the contact information for the title company matches the one in the email. If your client is especially vulnerable, don't send anything important via email so they know not to open messages with phishing links.
Real Estate Lawyer Impersonators
Fraudsters are getting gutsy on the internet. They now even impersonate legal entities and create websites so they appear legitimate. Elderly clients looking to hire legal representation for their real estate deal may not know how to double check that a company or lawyer is the real deal.
Agents can help their clients avoid this problem by double checking for them. Tell your elderly clients not to provide any funds being requested by the lawyers until you have verified they're authentic. The safest and easiest way to avoid this is to suggest your clients work with your preferred vendors—who you know are legitimate and have a good track record.
As ridiculous as it sounds, fraudsters are now stealing homes. This is a combination of identity theft and mortgage fraud. These con artists start out by finding out as much information about a person in order to assume their identity. Once they have that and some fake IDs and Social Security cards, they sign off that person's name on paperwork to transfer the deed.
While this one is a little tricky to prevent, make sure your elderly clients aren't sharing any vulnerable information that can be used against them, either online or through mail that gets thrown out. And even if they do take these preventative measures, let your clients know to look out for differences in their signature in home-related paperwork, or for information from a mortgage company that doesn't look familiar.
"While law enforcement, consumer protection agencies and financial institutions play important roles in identifying and thwarting elder fraud, alert citizens are still the first and best line of defense," said Abagnale in his latest Fraud Bulletin.
Editor's Note: RISMedia's Housecall is pleased to publish the first in our all-new #CyberCrime series on fraud prevention tips, strategies and trends. Stay tuned each week for our latest articles.